Dairy farmers know that each breed has unique characteristics; some are beneficial while others are challenging. For example, the Jersey cow is known for being more susceptible to milk fever and other issues around calving, and research has proven this to be true.
These differences are what led the American Jersey Cattle Association and National All-Jersey Inc. to partner with experts like James Tully, Todd Stroup, and Cameron Nightingale of Pine Creek Nutrition Service Inc. to create a webinar series focused on Jerseys. Based out of California, Pine Creek Nutrition Service works with more Jersey cows than any other nutrition company in the country.
Advice for everyone
“Regardless of breed, incidence of fresh cow problems increases with higher production and as animals get older,” Tully pointed out. For this reason, the nutritionists’ advice could apply to farms milking any breed of cow.
Nightingale pointed to six rules that lend themselves to a successful transition.
1. Minimize stress.
Nightingale said to pay attention to overcrowding at the feedbunk and resting areas. “In any transition pen, whether it is prepartum or postcalving, 80 percent stocking rate of headlocks or lying space is a good number to allow enough areas to rest and eat for animals that are already under stress,” he said.
Additional advice was to avoid empty bunk syndrome. “Manage and monitor dry matter intakes so cows always have clean, fresh feed that is pushed up and nonsortable,” he said.
Another stressor can be abrupt feed changes. Whether switching between piles of corn silage, stacks of alfalfa, or available commodities, Nightingale said to make smooth transitions from one ration feedstuff to another.
Animal handling can be another source of stress. “Don’t be too loud or too fast,” he said.
Nightingale added, “Jersey cows generally respond more unfavorably by not doing these things. Most cows will respond favorably by doing them, but Jerseys are very responsive if you are not doing them.”
Focus on nutrition and health
The next pieces of advice offered by the nutritionists focused on the area of rations.
2. Use nutrient requirements.
Keep an eye on metabolizable protein and digestible carbohydrates. “Get the right fraction of protein and good digestible carbohydrates to maximize the rumen bug population,” Nightingale said. “This is most easily achieved by high-quality forages, including really nice, fine-stem, soft alfalfa and good, clean (without mold) corn silage. Grain processing helps, too. All of these things lend to more digestibility.”
As far as vitamins and minerals go, the nutritionists said to follow the NRC (National Research Council) recommendations.
3. Implement DCAD diets.
The nutritionists feel that dietary cation-anion difference (DCAD) diets are critical for successful transitions, especially in Jerseys.
“By implementing a DCAD diet, we put her into mild acidosis,” Nightingale said. “This alters calcium metabolism so that there is greater absorption, enhanced mobilization from the bone, and more rapid excretion from the kidneys. This helps her get back into a natural state.”
They said that monitoring urine pH in fresh cows is the number one tool to assess transition cow performance. Other tests are available, but urine pH is easy, can be done cowside, and offers an early indication of trouble.
Urine pH testing is best done at least weekly. “Monitoring needs to happen at the same time every day, every week for continuity to make management decisions. Ideally, it will be four to six hours after feeding,” Nightingale said.
Diets can be acidified in a number of ways, including anionic minerals (calcium sulfate, calcium chloride, or ammonium chloride) and commercially available supplements that rely on chloride. Diets formulated for minus 5 to minus 12 mEq (milliequivalents) per 100 grams of diet dry matter should produce an appropriate reduction in urine pH.
A goal for urine pH is 5.5 to 6. Ideally, tested cows should fit into a tight range around the average, and the average should be close to the goal. When urine pH gets too low (close to 5), herds tend to see more retained placentas. When urine pH gets close to 7, the incidence of milk fever goes up.
4. Infrequent moves before calving.
“Every time we move a cow, it has to resocialize within a group,” Nightingale said. “The cow is stressed and releases cortisol, which impacts the immune system and dry matter intake. There is a negative cascade downwards every time we move a cow we don’t have to.”
Reduced intake means greater negative energy balance, resulting in more subclinical and clinical ketosis. Cows are more likely to get another disease if they already have one. For example, they are three to eight times more likely to get a displaced abomasum and two to five times more likely to get metritis when diagnosed with subclinical ketosis.
5. Fresh cow monitoring.
One useful test is measuring nonesterified fatty acids (NEFA) at least five days before calving. This number reflects the magnitude of which body stores of fat are being mobilized, which can indicate if dietary energy is insufficient and the cow is at risk for ketosis. This is done with a lab assay test.
Another tool is beta-hydroxybuterate acid (BHBA) testing at three to 15 days in milk. This reflects the extent to which mobilized body stores of fat are being metabolized into ketone bodies for energy and can indicate subclinical ketosis. This is a rapid cowside test.
6. Monitoring disease incidence.
There is value in knowing which cows are dealing with subclinical fresh cow diseases. Tully, Stroup, and Nightingale explained that when prefresh NEFA levels are greater than 0.3 milliequivalents per liter, cows are 1.8 to 2.2 times more likely to get ketosis, displaced abomasums, metritis, or retained placentas. Cows are 20 percent less likely to become pregnant and will make nearly 1,500 pounds less 305 M.E. milk (mature equivalent for 305 days) in the subsequent lactation.
Likewise, when postfresh BHBA levels are greater than 1.2 mmol/L (millimoles per liter), cows are 2.3 to 6.9 times more likely to experience the fresh cow diseases listed above. Cows are 10 percent less likely to become pregnant, and they have lower 305 M.E. projected milk levels than cows with lower BHBA concentrations.
A lot of this comes back to maintaining dry matter intake. Stroup said, “Do everything you can to support dry matter intake in those animals, whether it’s dry cow cooling or more room in the close-up pen.”
He also encouraged producers to adjust days in the dry period according to gestation length on your farm. This is more critical in summer when cows tend to have shorter gestations. This is especially worth noting for Jerseys as sexed semen use is common, and heifer calves tend to be born earlier. “These are some numbers you seriously need to look at to guarantee a minimum number of days in that close-up pen,” Stroup said.
Jersey breeders should take note of these recommendations to help ease their cows into the next lactation. All farms, however, could benefit from the advice of these nutritionists. Some tweaks to close-up and fresh cow care, especially for older and high-producing cows, can provide rewards regardless of the breed.